Masters In the Making

In the Meiji Restoration of the mid nineteenth century and its aftermath, Japanese culture confronted both its superiority and its shortcomings. In the ensuing interchange of cultural, artistic and technical knowledge, Japan adapted and adopted many things, some to its benefit, some to its later perceived disadvantage perhaps. Germany was a significant influence, its military and medical systems forming the basis for both in Japan. European words and concepts seeped into the language and remain today as ‘foreign loan words’.

Maisutaa’ (pronounced ‘my-star’) is the phonetic transliteration of the German ‘Meister’ used in Japanese, as in the original language, to signify a master craftsman. Fashion for the exotically new must have influenced the choice of this word as both concept and word existed in pre-Meiji Japan. The system of a long and arduous studio apprenticeship under an acknowledged master (cf German Guild) was common to all Japanese arts practice.

Mastery involved not only that of material and technique but mastery of self on a disciplined spiritual path. Mastery took decades. Apprentices were rarely actively taught; knowledge and skill was absorbed by observation. Years and years of menial tasks in the studio were the preparation for proceeding…to the less menial. Thus mastery was achieved only after decades of disciplined commitment. This is reflected today in the age of nominated Living National Treasures – recognition usually occurs in the artists’ late 60’s or 70’s.

The current exhibition introduces artists from a variety of fields: Some have followed the traditional path of the studio and a master, some are graduates of academic art training. Others have eschewed these paths and are self-taught, striving for a place in a still rigidly hierarchical Japanese art world where the right teacher, the right connections often outweigh artistic talent and creativity.

These artists are generally a decade or so short of their sixties, some still in their 30’s. Many are embraced and well established in Western museums and private collections, where artistic quality usually overrides considerations of age, experience and political correctness. To our experienced curatorial eye they are all… masters in the making.


Masters In the Making
Lesley Kehoe